In this first collaboration by science fiction masters Larry Niven (Ringworld) and Gregory Benford (Timescape), the limits of wonder are redrawn once again as a human expedition to another star system is jeopardized by an encounter with an astonishingly immense artifact in interstellar space: a bowl-shaped structure half-englobing a star, with a habitable area equivalent to many millions of Earths…and it’s on a direct path heading for the same system as the human ship.
A landing party is sent to investigate the Bowl, but when the explorers are separated—one group captured by the gigantic structure’s alien inhabitants, the other pursued across its strange and dangerous landscape—the mystery of the Bowl’s origins and purpose propel the human voyagers toward discoveries that will transform their understanding of their place in the universe.
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SF doyens Benford (Chiller) and Niven (the Ringworld series) collaborate on a strong SF series launch. Something goes wrong with Earth's SunSeeker space expedition, leaving the crew without enough fuel or supplies to reach their destination. Just as things get serious, they spot a curious phenomenon in space: an enormous bowl-shaped object, larger than any planet, cupping and half-encircling a star. Its inner surface is oddly Earth-like, and already inhabited. The Bird Folk watch the humans' every move, trying to decide whether to allow them to colonize or kill them all. Much of the book is written from the point of view of Memor, the Bird Folk representative assigned to study the humans; Benford and Niven helpfully give her a soap opera of primate behavior to observe, as Cliff loves Beth but sleeps with Irma because she's more convenient, and the various exploration teams bicker over leadership. While hardly groundbreaking, this is a solid work that will appeal to fans of classic hard SF.